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Why Most Influencers Aren’t Influencing Anyone – Ryan Kucey


The earliest documented influencer marketer was Angelo Mariani, back in 1863. Mariani was a French chemist from the island of Corsica who became intrigued with coca and its economic potential after reading an Italian neurologist’s paper on coca’s effects. He then developed Vin Mariani — a coca wine made from Bordeaux wine and coca leaves.

Mariani solicited testimonials from a broad range of European celebrities, including members of various royal families, politicians, artists, writers and other household names, and reprinted them in newspapers and magazines as advertisements. He claimed to have collected over four thousand such endorsements, including this one from Pope Leo.

The Pope was one of the first documented influencers for a brand.

Over time, we saw influential personalities such as Nancy Green endorse a popular maple syrup brand, Aunt Jemima, back in 1890. Even Santa was recruited to promote Coca-Cola, and of course, Andy Armstrong as the Marlboro Man — both dating back decades. These people certainly aren’t what we picture when we think of an influencer today, but they were a part of this industry long before the likes of Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian.

In the early 2010s, we began to see the new wave of influencer marketing. With 100 million users in 2013, Instagram started to solidify itself as a place for popular internet personalities with thousands of followers to endorse brands they liked. Six years later, where are we?

The industry is growing so rapidly that sponsorship dollars are flooding in from all angles. With that, there are aspiring influencers, bloggers, and content creators flocking to get in on the action. Free products, easy money, and social clout? That sure does sound enticing, I don’t blame them.

Warren Buffett is a renowned stock investor and an influencer in his industry — do you think he’d be quick to give his supporters a recommendation for something he didn’t actually believe in? No, of course not. Buffett is a thought leader and he understands the outcomes and consequences of what he puts out into the universe.

Suppose there’s a 20-something female fitness model with 150,000 Instagram followers, where in most of her photos, she’s posing in her workout attire in front of a mirror. Once in a while, she’ll share a workout tip or two, but offers little in the way of fitness or nutritional advice. Is she an influencer? I’d argue not. Who and what is she influencing? What value does she provide to her audience? Why do people follow her?

In contrast, there’s a personal trainer with 80,000 followers who graduated from UCLA with a degree in kinesiology and has a certification in nutrition. Her social feed is composed of helpful fitness videos and dieting tips, and she takes the time to respond to her follower’s questions on her Instagram Story. She encourages training for general health and longevity, rather than aesthetics. The brands she promotes are carefully researched and FDA approved. Is she an influencer? I certainly think she is. She influences her follower’s decisions by providing researched backed advice and has a university degree to boot. People come to her for advice on losing weight, and she influences them by providing advice on how they can achieve their goals. When she recommends a brand to her followers, they listen.



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